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Европейская денежная система

cases (monetary and balance of payments statistics) they had to be

available in a form permitting appropriate consolidation. In short, with a

few exceptions, it was realised that adding together existing national data

would not be adequate. Important initiatives were already under way, such

as the adoption of a new European System of Accounts [ESA95] and the

implementation at national level of a new IMF Balance of Payments Manual.

However, wide-ranging statistical preparations would be necessary for the

ECB to have the sort of statistical information that the national central

banks have traditionally used in conducting monetary policy.

How far the provision meets the current need

I arrived at the ECB about 2 years after these requirements had been

released and 7 months before the start of Monetary Union. I must confess

that I doubted many times in those early weeks whether statistics could be

ready in time to sustain monetary policy decisions. There were anxious

moments too in the late stages of finalising the monetary policy strategy:

would the requirements set out in 1996 correspond to the need perceived in

autumn 1998?

I am now sure that the decisions made in 1996 were correct. In

practice, one choice in autumn 1998 was almost automatic: thanks to the

work of Eurostat and the national statistical offices in the context of the

convergence criteria (with active involvement of the EMI), there was no

plausible rival to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the

purpose of defining price stability. I am aware that national consumer

price indices are sometimes criticised for overstating inflation, because

they take insufficient account of quality improvements and use outdated

weights. While further development of the HICP is to come, and at present

there is no satisfactory treatment of expenditure on housing, I believe

that every effort has been made to apply the lessons from experience with

national consumer price measures. The other choices for statistical

elements in the strategy were less obvious. In fact the banking statistics

reporting structure announced in 1996 proved able to provide the monetary

aggregates and the counterpart analysis required, and - with a little fine-

tuning - to meet the needs of a statistical basis for reserve requirements,

details of which were also finalised in the autumn. We were thus able to

begin publishing monetary statistics only a few days after the final

decisions were taken (at the Council meeting on 1 December), and were able

to publish with some estimation last month back data on the three monetary

aggregates monthly to 1980, and a note urging caution on users of the

earlier data.

However, the monetary strategy avoids putting too much weight on one

area or type of information. This is only partly for statistical reasons.

The formation of the euro area is a substantial structural change, which

may in time affect monetary and financial relationships. So the ECB also

examines a range of economic data for the light they shed on the assessment

of the economic situation and, in particular, prospects for inflation. The

editorial and economic developments sections of the Monetary Bulletin show

the way the ECB draws on this information; the statistical information

itself is set out in tables in the statistical section. Thus, in addition

to money and credit and the HICP, the editorial typically touches on GDP,

industrial output, capacity utilisation, orders, the labour market,

business and consumer confidence, costs and prices other than the HICP,

earnings and wage settlements, fiscal positions - naturally placing the

emphasis on what are judged to be the most important developments at the

time. All these areas were covered by the statement of requirements made in


I do not need to say that, at present, an accurate assessment of the

economic situation in the euro area is of vital importance. The editorial

section of the March Bulletin concludes that the overall outlook for price

stability remains favourable, with no major risk that HICP inflation will

exceed 2% in the near future, but there is nevertheless a balance of

conflicting influences. To reach this judgement, the Bulletin assesses the

latest GDP data (slower growth in the provisional Eurostat figures for GDP

in the 4th quarter of 1998; declining manufacturing output), the labour

market (unemployment falling slightly; some signs of rising pay

settlements), and confidence indicated by opinion surveys (business

confidence weak; the consumer mood rather optimistic). The economic

developments section supports the overall conclusion, and analyses in more

detail price and cost developments and of output, demand and the labour

market. It concludes with analysis of the fiscal position in the euro area

in 1998, and a preview based on fiscal plans for 1999. I am drawing your

attention to this to show the variety of material supporting the ECB's

assessment of the economic and financial position and prospects. Although

we pay particular attention to certain items - the monetary statistics,

with an emphasis this time on influences contributing to recent faster

growth, and to the rather rapid growth of credit, and the HICP - we draw on

a wide range of information in a continuous monitoring exercise. The

establishment of an institution responsible for monetary policy in the euro

area has caused a fundamental change in the use of macroeconomic statistics

at European level, very much as anticipated by the Implementation Package

nearly 3 years ago.

Priorities for further improvement of statistics

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eurostat for their

efforts to improve the quality and comparability of economic statistics

relating to the euro area, and to deliver them to the ECB on a timely

manner. They have given this high priority and much progress has been made

in the last year or so. Further improvement will come with the introduction

of the new European System of Accounts [ESA95] starting next month

(although we must expect some temporary confusion following the

introduction of a new system). Experience suggests that substantial

statistical changes initially bring classification problems. Although, of

course, provision has been made for back data to be available on the

closest possible approximation to the new basis, we must also expect some

discontinuity in important series. Implementation of last year's short-term

Statistics Regulation will bring improvements across a wide range of

conjunctural statistics not covered by ESA95. There are also initiatives to

improve labour market statistics. With Eurostat, who are responsible for

all these areas of statistics at European level, we do our best in the ECB

to promote better data. Perhaps I should underline our support here for the

priorities established last year by a working group of the Monetary

Committee (the current Economic and Financial Committee), in which Yves

Franchet and two of my ECB colleagues participated (Peter Bull and Gert Jan

Hogeweg): in addition to quarterly GDP and short-term conjunctural

statistics, these were government finance statistics, data relating to the

labour market (including labour costs), and the balance of payments. At

present the lack of comparable national statistics during the course of the

year makes it difficult to monitor the fiscal stance in the area as a

whole, and so to assess the balance of fiscal and monetary policy. Better

labour market statistics are important, not only for the ECB's assessment

of possible inflationary pressure, but also to improve understanding of the

structure of labour markets in our countries, and the rigidities which

impede the achievement of fuller employment. Balance of payments statistics

- a shared responsibility of the ECB and Eurostat at European level -

require a new approach in compiling data for the euro area as a whole. We

intend to publish the first monthly data for the euro area following the

new methodology next month, and to begin joint publication of a quarterly

euro-area balance of payments with Eurostat in the summer. But there are

deeper questions about future needs for balance of payments statistics in

the new circumstances which are currently being addressed. Principally, the

question arises of the usefulness for policy purposes of national balance

of payments statistics for Member States participating in Monetary Union.

There is no question, of course, that certain data in this area are needed

within the ESA95 framework of national and financial accounts.

The organisational, legal and technical infrastructure

I have talked mainly about statistical requirements and their

provision, but this is only part of the story. The Treaty (specifically in

Article 5 of the Statute of the ESCB and the ECB) clearly envisaged that

the ECB would perform statistical functions, assisted by and in co-

operation with national central banks, other national authorities, the

Commission (meaning in this context in particular Eurostat), and

international organisations. A large part of the preparatory work carried

out by the EMI consisted of sorting out who would do what, avoiding so far

as possible duplication, wasted effort and conflicting data, and keeping

the whole development consistent with international statistical

conventions. Much of this had to be framed in legal instruments, which

would complete the statutory framework provided by the Treaty and the

ESCB/ECB Statute. Although work on an EU Council Regulation concerning ECB

statistics began as early as 1996, the Regulation could not be finalised

until last autumn and the ECB could not adopt legal instruments on

statistics in advance of that event - much work in this area therefore had

to be done at the last minute.

Information Technology is another of my responsibilities at the ECB.

I am glad to say that essential elements of our data transfer and

statistical processing systems were in place when I arrived, or brought

into operation soon afterwards. But here, too, there is room for further

improvement - the EMI and the ECB in these early months have had so much to

do in relation to the resources available that, broadly speaking, only the

essentials have been provided so far.


"Nothing is more important for monetary policy than good statistics."

The formation of Monetary Union has shifted the focus of interest on to

data covering the euro area as a whole. This has required substantial

changes to statistics, which need time to settle down and are some way

short of completion. At the same time, the adoption of the single currency

is itself a massive structural change. This will surely affect economic and

financial relationships and make any data harder to interpret, although

these deeper effects may occur over a period and take some time to become

apparent. What is clear, however, is that the ECB must take policy

decisions and explain them publicly in terms of the data available relating

to its policy responsibility. What we continue to strive to do, through our

own efforts and with the help of Eurostat, is to improve the quality of the

data underlying policy decisions, which are so important in gaining public

understanding and acceptance for them.


The tasks and limitations of monetary policy

Speech delivered by Christian Noyer

Vice-President of the European Central Bank,

at the Volkswirtschaftliche Tagung of the Oesterreichische


on 10 June 1999 in Vienna

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here in Vienna today and I should like

to start by thanking the conference organisers for giving me the

opportunity to elaborate on the tasks and limitations of monetary policy.

This topic is extremely important. Looking back over the history of

economic thought, it is clear that the perception of what monetary policy

can do and what it cannot or should not do has changed. This has clearly

shaped the role of monetary policy in economic policy. In the 1960s

economic theories suggested a long-run trade-off between inflation and

output. These theories provided the intellectual basis for policy-makers to

pursue monetary policies biased towards higher inflation. The high

inflation experience of the 1970s together with new theoretical findings,

especially on the role of expectations, led policy-makers to move towards

lowering and stabilising inflation.

Theoretical considerations as well as empirical evidence over several

decades suggest that high rates of inflation are clearly unhelpful - indeed

detrimental - to growth and employment in the long term. A large number of

economic arguments point to the benefits of price stability for economic

growth and employment prospects. Stable prices eliminate economic costs

such as those arising from unnecessary uncertainty about the outcome of

investment decisions, the distortionary effects on the tax system, rising

risk premia in long-term interest rates and the reduced allocative

effectiveness of the price and market systems. To quote Alan Greenspan,

chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, "Price stability is achieved

when the public no longer takes account of actual or prospective inflation

in its decision-making." Monetary policy must take into account the fact

that the horizon for decisions by economic agents is rather long-term in

nature. By guaranteeing price stability, monetary policy supports the

efficient functioning of the price mechanism, which is conducive to the

allocation of scarce resources. Price stability is a means of promoting

sustainable economic growth and employment creation and of improving

productivity levels and living standards.

Against this background, the predominant view has emerged that the

best and most lasting contribution that monetary policy can make to long-

term economic welfare in the broader sense is that of safeguarding price

stability. Central banks throughout the world have been moving towards

adopting long-term price stability as their primary goal.

In order to achieve this goal most successfully, independence from

political interference and a clear legal mandate for price stability are of

the utmost importance. A lack of central bank independence and an ambiguous

mandate can easily force central banks to focus on the short term and,

thus, fail to adopt the forward-looking, medium-term orientation that is

crucial for a successful monetary strategy.

All these issues were taken into consideration by policy-makers when

drafting the Treaty establishing the European Community and designing the

blueprint for the European Central Bank. Both central bank independence and

an unequivocal commitment to price stability are therefore tenets of the

monetary policy framework enshrined in the Treaty. There can be no doubt

that the European Central Bank (ECB) is determined and well-equipped to

tackle its main task, namely, that of maintaining price stability in the

euro area over the medium term. It will thereby make a significant

contribution to the achievement of other Community objectives such as high

employment and sustainable non-inflationary growth. In this connection, the

pursuit of sound macroeconomic policies by the EU Member States would

considerably facilitate the task of the ECB. The room for manoeuvre in

monetary policy and the degree of success in terms of maintaining price

stability are crucially dependent on the support of sound fiscal policies

and responsible wage settlements in the euro area.

The Treaty establishing the European Community states that the

primary objective of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) is to

maintain price stability. Without prejudice to this objective, the ESCB

shall support the general economic policies in the European Community. It

shall operate in a manner that is consistent with the establishment of free

and competitive markets. The Treaty states explicitly how the ESCB shall

set its priorities. Price stability is the first goal of the monetary

policy of the Eurosystem, and a contribution to the achievement of the

other objectives of the European Community can only be made if this primary

objective is not compromised. However, there is ultimately no

incompatibility between maintaining price stability and pursuing these

other objectives. By maintaining price stability, the ECB will also

contribute to the achievement of other Community objectives.

Of course, the ECB is concerned about the intolerably high level of

unemployment in Europe, but we should realise that the role of monetary

policy in reducing unemployment in Europe can only be very limited. Many

empirical studies show that the high unemployment rate is mostly the

consequence of structural rigidities within the European labour and product

markets. The European unemployment rate has, indeed, been high and stable

over the business cycles in the past decade. Only structural reforms,

preferably of a comprehensive nature, can therefore tackle the underlying

impediments to employment growth.

The monetary policy of the Eurosystem is geared towards the euro area

as a whole and, thus, cannot take into account purely national and regional

developments. The cyclical positions of participating countries have not

yet completely converged, although, with the single currency in place, some

national differences may disappear over time. This requires national

policies and labour and goods markets to be increasingly flexible in order

to be able to respond effectively to economic shocks. Well-functioning

labour and product markets are therefore needed to allow adjustments to

wages and prices to be made if local economic conditions change.

Budgetary policies play a major role in conditioning monetary policy.

National fiscal authorities have to demonstrate their commitment to the

maintenance of price stability in the euro area over the medium term. In

this context, the Stability and Growth Pact is a crucial element. Its aim

is to encourage the pursuit of disciplined and sustainable fiscal policies

by the participating EU Member States and the prospective members. Sound

public finances, with lower public debt and tax burdens, contribute to a

lowering of long-term interest rates, reduce uncertainty and increase

private capital formation. They not only facilitate the task of monetary

policy with regard to the maintenance of price stability, but also

strengthen the conditions for sustainable growth conducive to employment

creation. Conversely, unsound fiscal policies tend to increase inflation

expectations and force monetary policy to keep short-term rates higher than

would otherwise be necessary.

The single monetary policy has to be conducted independently of the

short-term political considerations of national governments. In this

context, the ECB cannot commit itself to move its interest rates in a

certain way in response to specific actions or plans of other policy-

makers. Monetary policy has to take into account the overall economic

situation to assess the risks to price stability. Direct ex ante co-

ordination with fiscal authorities might endanger meeting the primary

objective and would set the wrong incentives for the conduct of sound

macroeconomic policies. This does not, of course, exclude a constructive

dialogue between the Eurosystem and government authorities which clearly

respects the independence of the ECB.

When dealing with one of the major world currencies and with the

currency of one of the two main world economies, it is inconceivable that

price stability might be maintained by setting an exchange rate target as

an intermediate objective. However, external developments including the

exchange rate are taken into account in accordance with our strategy, as

they may have an impact on domestic economic developments and thereby on

price stability. Referring to recent exchange rate developments in this

context, it is appropriate for me to quote the President of the ECB, Dr. W.

F. Duisenberg, who recently said that "the euro is a currency firmly based

on internal price stability, and therefore has a clear potential for a

stronger external value".

The absence of exchange rate targets for the euro vis-а-vis other

major currencies should not be misunderstood. For smaller, very open

economies, fixed exchange rates may be a very reasonable choice. The

Austrian example is one of the most prominent in this respect. By pegging

the Austrian schilling to the Deutsche mark for over twenty years, it

proved possible to import credibility and price stability. The increasingly

close pegging of the Austrian currency to the currency of its main trading

partner was, among other features of the Austrian policy mix, the driving

force behind the economic convergence process in the run-up to Stage Three

of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The credibility of the Austrian

exchange rate target was also underpinned by an income policy aiming at

relatively high real wage flexibility and a fiscal policy geared towards

consolidation. All in all, the Austrian model, which set out to guarantee

stability in nominal and real terms, has turned out to be very successful.

The example given by past Austrian experience is, I believe, very

valuable. It shows that the achievement of sustainable convergence with the

euro area can be assisted by means of an exchange rate target. The new

Exchange Rate Mechanism of the European Union, ERM II, may play a similar

role for those current and prospective EU Member States which have not yet

joined Stage Three of EMU.

The achievement of price stability is also of high importance for the

stability of the financial system. The financial system of the euro area

showed a high degree of stability during last year's period of financial

turbulence as well as during the rather dramatic structural shift connected

to the changeover to the euro. At the ECB, we play our part in the

evolution of the euro area financial system by providing it with stable

monetary conditions. By creating an environment of price stability, we

allow private sector agents to focus their attention on the questions that

are most relevant to their activities and to take advantage of benefits of

this stable environment, such as the lengthening of their planning

horizons. There is a lot of empirical evidence that safeguarding price

stability is the optimal contribution that a central bank can make to the

maintenance of financial stability and that those two goals are actually


I should like to conclude by saying that the main contribution of the

single monetary policy to the welfare of the people in the euro area will

be the maintenance of price stability in the medium term. The ECB is

determined to tackle this task and is well-equipped to do so. Our

conviction is that the economic performance of the euro area will benefit

significantly from price stability. This will ultimately facilitate the

achievement of those objectives, which underlie the general economic

policies of the European Community and the individual governments at the

national level. However, the economic problems in the euro area cannot be

tackled by monetary policy alone. We have to be realistic about the goals

which can be achieved by monetary policy. Neglecting the limitations of

monetary policy and promising too much could, in the long term, be

detrimental to the establishment of a stability culture in Europe, and

could also lead to delays in implementing the economic reforms that are

crucial to achieving high growth and employment.


European Central Bank

Press Division

Kaiserstrasse 29, D-60311 Frankfurt am Main

Tel.: 0049 69 1344 7455, Fax: 0049 69 1344 7404

Internet: http://www.ecb.int

Reproduction is permitted provided that the source is


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